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August 20, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: EDUCATION:

Titus offers schools help in cashing in on stimulus

She hopes district gets some of $1 billion for dropout prevention

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Dina Titus

During a visit to Centennial High School on Thursday, Rep. Dina Titus said she’s committed to helping agencies in Nevada qualify for as many federal stimulus dollars as possible, particularly public schools.

With the first round of education funding on its way and more to be made available in the fall, the Democrat told the campuses in her Southern Nevada district that her staff will help them navigate the application process, rather than wait for larger grants to flow through the Nevada Education Department.

Of particular interest to Titus is the $1 billion allocated for dropout prevention programs at Title I schools, which serve the largest populations of at-risk students. Too many Clark County schools are the equivalent of “dropout factories,” Titus said.

She was at Centennial to congratulate the Navy Junior ROTC on winning the national championship last month in Pensacola, Fla. The school’s cadets swept top honors in both the academic and athletic categories.

Centennial’s program is proof “that the possibility to excel is there,” Titus said. “That’s because teachers are so committed and do more with less. If we had the needed resources it wouldn’t be just one school winning awards. Everybody would be moving up and improve the graduation rate.”

Asked whether she ever imagined how she might be governing the state today had she won the 2006 gubernatorial race, Titus smiled.

“I have no regrets about where I am,” Titus said. “It’s very exciting to feel like you’re accomplishing something.”

•••

The legislative session brought some close calls for the School District, including a proposal that would have jeopardized its construction program.

George Stevens, Clark County’s budget director, had suggested the state look at tapping the money of several Southern Nevada agencies — including the School District — intended for growth-related projects that are no longer necessary in the economic slowdown. Doing so would reduce the burden on the county’s general fund to make up the shortfall, Stevens argued.

To the relief of district officials, the proposal failed to gain support.

The district’s $3.5 billion, 10-year capital plan is funded by three revenue streams. The largest is a share of the property tax approved by voters in 1998. Also, in 1997 the Legislature approved allocating a share of the hotel room tax and real estate transfer tax to the construction program.

The hotel room tax and real estate transfer tax are the easiest for lawmakers to alter, said Joyce Haldeman, associate superintendent of community and government relations for the district.

But just because they can doesn’t mean they should, Haldeman said.

Property tax revenues are down dramatically and the district needs every dollar to finish construction projects, she said. There is $500 million in work under way, and $850 million out for bids.

“If lawmakers make a money grab now, the schools that would suffer most are the oldest ones waiting to be renovated,” Haldeman said.

The district promised voters in 1998 that the money would be used for capital costs and not day-to-day expenses, Haldeman said.

“We would destroy the public trust we have with voters,” Haldeman said. “And quite possibly inhibit our ability to pass a bond again.”

•••

Though many students dread math tests, Arbor View High School junior Sam Wu has no difficulty coming up with the correct answers — and quickly.

Wu had a perfect score on the TrigStar competition exam sponsored by the National Society of Professional Surveyors. Wu also had the fastest time in the state.

On Friday, he represented Nevada in a two-hour national exam.

He wasn’t trying to beat the clock when he took the first test. Instead, he said, he was thinking about the $75 prize that went to his school’s top scorer.

He used the money for an iPod Nano.

To prepare for the exam, Wu worked on sample exam questions every night and sought extra help from his teachers. And, of course, “I paid attention in class,” he said.

Wu’s work ethic proves that “talent and hard work are a great combination,” said Jeremy Christensen, an Arbor View math teacher.

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